An international, high-speed passenger ferry service between Nagapattinam on the eastern coast of Tamil Nadu and Kankesanthurai in the northern province of Sri Lanka, has resumed as of Saturday, October 14, 2023, after a gap of nearly four decades.
Union Minister for Ports, Shipping and Waterways, Sarbananda Sonowal and Tamil Nadu Minister for Public Works, Highways and Minor Ports, E.V. Velu, flagged off the craft from the Nagapattinam port on Saturday.
The high-speed craft (HSC) Cheriyapani, embarked on its journey around 8.15 a.m. from the Nagapattinam port with 50 passengers and 12 crew members headed by Captain Biju George, on board.
In video messages, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President of Sri Lanka Ranil Wickremesinghe hailed this diplomatic effort and highlighted the importance of launching the ferry service between the two nations.
Calling it a new chapter in diplomatic and economic ties between India and Sri Lanka, Mr. Modi said the ferry service will help strengthen cultural, commercial, and civilisational ties between the two nations. Connectivity is the central theme of the joint vision of the India - Sri Lanka economic partnership, Mr. Modi said, adding that India will take steps to resume the operation of the ferry service between Rameswaram and Talaimannar as well.
‘Important step for connectivity’
Mr. Wickremesinghe said this was an important step in improving connectivity between the two nations. People of both countries have travelled across the Palk strait for many years, he said and added that the ferry services operated in the past were suspended due to the civil war in Sri Lanka. Now, the connectivity has been re-established.
The operation of the ferry service will strengthen cultural ties between Tamil Nadu and the northern province of Sri Lanka, said Mr. Sonowal and added that given the proximity of Nagapattinam to various places of religious significance, including Thirunallar, Nagore, and Velankanni, it will ease the travel of pilgrims from the island nation.
Union External Affairs Minister S. Jai Shankar, who virtually addressed the event, said the launch affirmed the ‘neighbourhood first' policy of India. Further, it would help improve cooperation in disaster management, maritime security, and ease of business between the two nations.
Nimal Siripala de Silva, Minister for Ports, Shipping and Aviation of Sri Lanka, and Gopal Baglay, Indian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, virtually witnessed the inaugural ceremony. Mr. Silva thanked the government of India for taking up various infrastructure projects in Sri Lanka.
T.N. Minister for Law S. Regupathy, senior officials from the Union and State governments, and legislators participated in the inaugural event.
Private agency to sell tickets
The Shipping Corporation of India has roped in a private agency to sell tickets. The vessel can accommodate 150 passengers on board and will start from Nagapattinam at 7 a.m. and reach Kankesanthurai at 11 a.m. The return journey will start at 1.30 p.m. at Kankesanthurai and reach Nagapattinam at 5.30 p.m. A one-way ticket for travel will cost around ₹7,670 and each passenger can carry up to 50 kg of baggage onboard.
State Port Officer Captain M. Anbazhagan told The Hindu that the daily service will continue till October 23. Since the vessel cannot be operated in rough weather, considering the onset of the Northeast monsoon, the operations will be temporarily suspended for two months and will resume in January, next year.
Captain Anbazhagan said the Tamil Nadu Maritime Board will take up further dredging activities at the Port and upgrade the infrastructure at the Nagapattinam Passenger Terminal Station during the break in the service. Steps are also underway to facilitate the passengers to avail of e-visas.
While earlier, talks around the ferry service spoke of connecting Karaikal and Kankesanthurai, after Sri Lankan president Ranil Wickremesinghe met PM Modi in July this year, the location of the Indian end of the service moved to Nagapattinam.
The Nagapattinam port is one of the non-major ports under the maintenance of the Tamil Nadu Maritime Board, and is located on the shores of the Bay of Bengal at the estuary of the Kaduvaiyar river that flows south of the town between Akkaraipettai and Keechankuppam fishermen villages. The Union Ministry of External Affairs had sanctioned ₹8 crore to upgrade the infrastructure at the port.
A slew of measures, including setting up office spaces for Customs, External Affairs, Shipping, Immigration and the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) and building a passenger terminal were carried out by the Tamil Nadu Maritime Board. The mouth of the Kaduvaiyar River was also dredged to remove accumulated silt to facilitate the movement of large vessels.